The Edmond Sun

Sports

May 8, 2014

Why college athletes need a union

WASHINGTON — Leticia Romero came to Kansas State University from the Canary Islands to play basketball. After Romero's freshman season - a successful one on the court, in which she averaged more than 14 points per game - the coach that recruited her was fired, and several assistant coaches chose to leave as well. As a consequence, Romero decided she wanted to transfer. The Kansas State athletic department had other ideas.

Mechelle Voepel of ESPN.com has the full story, and it's yet another infuriating example of how college sports administrators control unpaid NCAA athletes. Kansas State has thus far refused to release Romero from her scholarship, which means she can't receive financial aid from any other Division I institution for at least a year. The Kansas State athletic department has mostly refused to explain itself, on account of "student-privacy concerns." That excuse would make more sense if someone had told Romero why the university is blocking her release. The player says she hasn't gotten any explanation at all.

In the months since Northwestern football players filed a petition to unionize, we've heard a single unrelenting message from the guardians of the NCAA's status quo: We are absolutely 100 percent devoted to the best interests of our student-athletes. "We have great protocols in place and we haven't been forced to do that by any third party," explained Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald, who couldn't be more anti-union if he were the CEO of Walmart.

"If our athletes get hurt, we pay all their medical bills. If they want to come back and graduate, we pay for them to come back and graduate. We do everything that they say they wanted," said University of Texas athletic director Steve Patterson last month.

Coaches and athletic directors like Fitzgerald and Patterson do take care of their unpaid undergrad laborers - except when they don't. Even if you believe (which I do not) that most college athletes get a fair deal, there are those like Romero who get railroaded and have no recourse. In the absence of any official third party to negotiate on Romero's behalf, it's left to journalists and broadcasters like ESPN's Jay Bilas to highlight the injustice. Indeed, a vigorous public shaming is typically the only way to get schools to back down from these unethical transfer blockades.

The trouble is that most of the NCAA's defenders have lost the capacity to feel shame. In response to the outrage over Kansas State's handling of Romero's transfer request, the school's athletic director wrote on Twitter, "on RARE occasions that we have denied a student-athlete transfer release, it has been because of concerns about outside tampering, undue influence by third parties or procedures not being followed in an honest and forthright manner." The implication here - one confirmed by Voepel's reporting - is that the school believes Romero's former coaches are trying to lure her away from Manhattan, Kansas. Romero denies this, but who cares if it's true? Kansas State fired its head coach, and now it's trying to hold one of the players that coach recruited against her will. Given the circumstances, it's obscene that it's the school insinuating that someone else isn't behaving "in an honest and forthright manner."

This is the skewed moral universe that the NCAA has created and that its member institutions continue to prop up. There's now a debate over whether schools should pay the "full cost of attendance" for their athletes - the expenses that aren't covered by a scholarship. Those expenses average around $3,500 per athlete per year, with the cost differing by school. Schools could make this small concession, considering it a tiny price to pay given the estimates of the fair market value of a college football player. Instead, they're whining about how this is going to drive them out of business. Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard told the Des Moines Register it will cost $750,000 annually to pay for the students' cost of attendance, and "we'll have to pass those costs on to our fans," in part by raising ticket prices. "It's another financial hurdle that we have to deal with," Pollard said.

Pollard didn't talk about financial hurdles in 2012, when Iowa State opened a $20.6 million football complex. He also hasn't groused about all the scrimping and saving the school will need to do to pay his own $900,000 salary. If, like Iowa State's players, Pollard took home $0 per year, then the university would have more than enough to give every Cyclone athlete a free education. What say you, Mr. Athletic Director?

While we await his reply, consider the case of Boise State basketball player Joey Nebeker. Well, Nebeker used to play for Boise State, until his coach told him he just wasn't good enough to warrant a scholarship. The NCAA's defenders argue that athletes get an amazing deal: a free education that puts you on track for a great career. The truth is that your coach can pull your scholarship after a single year, for any reason - that free education is free only so long as you're nailing your jump shot.

This happens all the time: Coaches send old, not-so-useful players packing to make way for the new recruits. What's rare is for a jilted player like Nebeker to talk about it publicly. After all, what's to be gained by complaining? There's no chance you're going to get the decision overturned, and you won't help your chances of getting a scholarship elsewhere if you act like a crybaby.

Keep your head down. Don't make the coaches mad. Be thankful for what you have. That's how the NCAA wants college athletes to think. But public opinion is shifting, and players at Northwestern and elsewhere are starting to speak up. The potential for cost-of-attendance payments, the advent of legitimate four-year scholarships at certain schools, the decree that athletes can now have unlimited food - these changes were spurred by widespread outrage over how the NCAA exploits the young men and women who make college sports such a lucrative enterprise. But the fundamental unfairness of college sports won't change until athletes like Leticia Romero and Joey Nebeker have a voice. This is why college athletes need a third party to represent them: Because the people in charge don't want to hear what they have to say, and at this point no one can compel them to listen.

      

1
Text Only
Sports
  • spts-DC Brock Ruminer dive TD catch.jpg Deer Creek 2nd largest in Class 5A

    With the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association releasing enrollment figures, Deer Creek stands as the second-largest school in Class 5A with 1,252 students.
    Lawton Eisenhower, which had been a very strong football program in 6A, is now tops in 5A with 1,281 students.
    Schedules in football classification still remain the same until 2016-17. Del City will move back into 6A beginning in 2016.
    The statistics will not be deemed official until pending approval at the OSSAA’s board meeting next month.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • Wilson, Grissom take on more suitable roles for 2015 season

    Experience comes from encountering the same things in the same ways over and over again. Oklahoma’s Geneo Grissom and Julian Wilson have that at defensive end and nickleback in bunches.
    However, both will be seeing new things when practice begins. Grissom is moving to outside linebacker. Wilson will be getting a look at cornerback as his senior season begins.
    The moves were made to aid OU’s defense. They could benefit both in the future.

    July 28, 2014

  • spts-OSU Yurcich.jpg Yurcich ready for second season

    With the 2014 season on the brink, Mike Yurcich, Oklahoma State University football offensive coordinator, is ready for his second year at the helm after coaching a powerful offensive squad a year ago.
    Yurcich and most of the Cowboys’ coaching staff attended the annual media golf outing  Wednesday at Karsten Creek. He, along with the other assistant coaches, talked about the upcoming season.
    “Every offense is going to be a little bit different from year to year, depending on the personnel,” Yurcich said. “I think you learn a little bit more about the players, because you know them for a longer time. You know a little bit more about the coaches you work with because you’re around them a little bit longer. All of those things factor into one more year of experience.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • spts-EN Jaci Smith long backhand.jpg Wallar voted National Tennis Coach of the Year finalist

    The National High School Athletic Coaches Association honored  Dee Ann Waller, coach and teacher from Edmond North High School, as a finalist for the National High School Athletic Coaches Association National Coach of the Year in tennis.   
    Eight finalists from across the nation were chosen to be honored during The National Coach of the Year awards banquet that took place during the National High School Athletic Coaches Association’s national convention June 14-18, at the Snow King Resort in Jackson Hole, Wy.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • spts-Hershey Mary McKey.jpg McKey to compete in North American final

    Edmond’s Mary McKey, who attends John Carroll Catholic School in Oklahoma City, qualified for the Hershey’s Track & Field Games North American Final after winning the Hershey’s Oklahoma State Meet  June 28.
    McKey, 12, had the fastest time in the region that consists of Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, New Mexico and Puerto Rico. Hershey only accepts eight runners from North America.
    McKey is a Catholic grade school champion and the first Catholic student to qualify for the North American final. She is also a Jim Thorpe Games 400-meter      champion.
    The North American final will run Aug. 2           in Hershey, Pa.
     

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Former quarterback Bell has pedigree to dominate at tight end for Sooners

    The question came quickly to Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops. Are there any plans to use Blake Bell at quarterback — in some capacity?
    “That’s funny, it keeps coming up,” Stoops said Tuesday at Big 12 Media Days. “Blake was recruited definitely as a quarterback. But when you look at him now after three years, he is the pro-type at tight end. He’s got great hands, great size. He can run. Natural spacing as far as where to be in his routes.”
    So, the answer is no.

    July 25, 2014

  • Smith ready to begin the next chapter with Ravens

    During his long drive to Maryland from his North Carolina home Sunday, veteran wide receiver Steve Smith had plenty of time to think about an offseason defined by a dramatic change in his life.
    After 13 years with the Carolina Panthers, Smith was cut in March following one of the least productive seasons of his career. The Ravens promptly signed him to a three-year, $11 million contract.
    Smith remained in a reflective mood as veterans officially reported to camp Wednesday. Smith, however, showed up Monday eager for his new start.

    July 25, 2014

  • Blackmon.jpg Local cops arrest NFL player on marijuana complaint

    The Edmond Police Department has released the incident report related to the arrest of ex-Oklahoma State star and current NFL player Justin Blackmon.
    Blackmon, 24, a product of Plainview High School in Ardmore, is a 6-1, 210-pound wide receiver in his second year with the Jacksonville Jaguars. At Oklahoma State University, he was a two-time Biletnikoff Award winner as the country’s best collegiate wide receiver.

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Former OSU line coach having impact on Texas staff

    It was quite possibly the biggest coaching coup of the offseason and Oklahoma State was at the wrong end of it — former Cowboy offensive line coach Joe Wickline joining the staff for Charlie Strong’s Texas Longhorns.
    “It’s always good when you go hire staff and you look at just getting the right people within your program. And, a lot of times, guys know a lot of Xs and Os, but it’s all just about developing a player,” said Strong, Tuesday during the Big 12 Conference Football Media Days. “Joe and I, we’ve coached together at two different places. But just with him being within his conference and knowing the conference, he’s been a great asset.”

    July 22, 2014

  • spts-ESF Max McGreevy state champ.jpg Santa Fe alum McGreevy makes U.S. Amateur

    OU’s Max McGreevy, an Edmond Santa Fe graduate, and University of Tulsa’s Logan McCracken qualified for the 2014 U.S. Amateur, the United States Golf Association’s (USGA) prestigious annual event featuring the world’s finest amateur golfers. This year’s championship will be held at the venerable Atlanta Athletic Club (AAC) in Johns Creek, Aug. 9-17.

    Qualifying Players
    Max McGreevy, Edmond 67-65—132
    Logan McCracken, Oklahoma City 69-66—135

    Alternates
    1st Alt. Garrison Mendoza, Clinton 69-71—140
    2nd Alt. Thomas Johnson, Norman 71-69—140

    July 21, 2014 1 Photo

Photos